Oklahoma City, OK -
When the Edmonton Oilers assigned Gilbert Brule to the AHL at the start of the season, at the time General Manager Steve Tambellini stressed that it did not mean that the team had given up on the forward.
"I haven't given up on him," said Tambellini. "He has qualities that can make him a contributing player in the National Hockey League. Now it's up to him to re-establish himself as the type of player that had him drafted so highly."
Tambellini went on to praise Brule and the style of game he can play when firing on all cylinders.
"He's a talented young man, he can play with an edge. He's shown that he can score goals at this level. He just needs to get back and play the type of minutes that he needs to play as an offensive-type forward. he was getting limited minutes in a third or fourth line role.
"He needs to re-establish himself and get that confidence back in his game."
Certainly, in Oklahoma City, Brule is getting much more than third or fourth-line minutes. He has often found himself on the team's top line and top power-play unit as he attempts to work his way back to the National Hockey League level.
Assistant Coach Gerry Fleming, who also worked with Brule in Springfield, praised the type of positive vibes Brule has brought with him to the team this year.
"Number one, he's come down with a great attitude. He's come down with an attitude that he's here for a reason," Fleming began.
"There's an old saying in hockey: you can use this time to be bitter or you can use it to make yourself better. I think Bru's taking the step that he's going to make himself better. There's things in his game that he had to clean up. Things that he needs to work on, build confidence in those areas.
"He's come down here with the right attitude and worked hard in practice. In the games, we're starting to see results."
After picking up only one point in five games during an injury-plagued opening 20 days of the season, those results are starting to show on the scoresheet for Brule. He's picked up three goals and six points in his last five outings - not coincidentally, the Barons have won each of those five games.
"Bru's got to play with an edge every game. When he plays with an edge, he's tough to play against. He has to play physical, has to manage the puck well, he's got to be responsible without the puck and he's worked on those areas of his game."
That word, 'edge' is a big key to Brule's game and to his on-ice success. Fleming says Brule has pinpointed exactly what he needs to work on in order to get back to the show.
"He's identified that those are areas that he needs to work on. Some of those are strengths that he has and he has to continue to build on those. There's areas of his game that he has to improve. One of those is play without the puck and he's made some tremendous strides just in the last month or so to improve those areas."
Fleming pointed out that an added bonus is the fact Brule has worked well with the young players on the team, which is key on such a young roster.
"My experience is Bru has always been positive. He comes to the rink with a smile every day, he comes to the rink wanting to get better every day and wanting to make everyone around him better. He's been great with the young guys," Fleming remarked.
"He's a veteran now at the American Hockey League level. He brings a lot of experience from the NHL, things that guys may be going through that he can lend a helping hand, a voice."
For Brule, it's his second stint in the AHL. After a season-and-a-half in the NHL with Columbus, he found himself down in the American Hockey League with Syracuse and then Springfield after being traded to the Oilers.
"This is my second time down in the AHL from being in the NHL so I'm used to this before. It's never an easy transition but I'm still playing hockey for a living and you can't complain about that," Brule said.
A breakout 17-goal campaign in 2009-10 with Edmonton looked to have cemented his role at the NHL level but last season he struggled to find his game while plagued with illness and injury.
"This is just a step down but it's still really good hockey. It's a good league. It's a bit of an adjustment, positionally it's a little bit different than the NHL but still a good game down here and a hard game."
Brule stated that overall team success has made the transition so much easier.
"The guys are great. I really get along with everyone here and we're doing really well this season so we seem to be clicking on and off the ice, which is wonderful," he began.
"I've been playing a lot, it's good to get points and it's good to be on a winning team. That's the biggest part. We're 10-2-1 right now which is awesome. It's great to be on a winning team and winning puts everyone in a better mood every day."